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The Veteran Politician

Get to Know Michael Bagneris, the Man With a Solid Campaign to Be the Next Mayor of New Orleans

It would be a mistake to underestimate Michael Bagneris. Sure, he faces 17 other candidates in his bid to become Mayor of New Orleans — including his two leading opponents, up-and-coming political stars Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell and former Judge Desiree Charbonnet — but Bagneris makes a strong case to take over the highest office in the Crescent City. Read on for NoDef’s interview with the mayoral candidate, where he sounds off on the city’s safety, job markets, and his dreams of New Orleans in the future. 


Simply put, Judge Michael G. Bagneris (or simply ‘Mike’, as it says on his campaign website) has the experience far and above any other contender in the race. “I’m the only candidate in this race who has executive, legislative, and judicial experience,” he stated, making a case for his second run at the mayoral office. His résumé, which boasts an extensive background in all three branches of government, speaks for itself but he knows he must also get the word out about the ideologies that drive his dedication to the public works sphere.


“I was the first African-American executive counsel to the first black Mayor of New Orleans,” he explained about his early background. “I was present for all substantive meetings, paid close attention, and never spoke. By listening, I learned. I was also part of the executive council that was responsible for moving the legislative package [through Baton Rouge].”


For two decades, Bagneris served as a Judge with the Orleans Parish Civil District Court before retiring in 2013 to run against Mitch Landrieu. 


Certainly no one is questioning his credentials. But with so many misperceptions about New Orleans BK (Before Katrina), the objective for Bagneris’ campaign is to assure his supporters that he is a relevant voice in a city where new voices, both from inside and out, challenge any associations with old political orders. 


Bagneris moves and speaks with the energy of a man on the go and on a mission. This tireless spirit and vision have been mainstays of his career in politics, when many others in the same field have fallen victim to egoism or despondency. 


His campaign platform focuses on three core planks: addressing crime, stimulating job growth, and fixing our streets. The cornerstone upon which his platform rests remains the same as when last he ran for mayor: public safety.


“Public safety is number one, it has to be number one,” he explained. "There are lots of challenging issues facing the city, but all pale when compared to improving public safety. You have deal with it. If you don’t, there won’t be jobs because businesses don’t stay in unsafe areas. If there are no businesses, there are no jobs. If there are no jobs, there are no citizens. Everything hinges upon our city being safe.”  The mayoral hopeful finished with an emphatic flourish, “Public safety is number one! And after that it’s number two, and after that it’s number three!”  


The emphasis is not just a slick, rhetorical device. It’s clear Bagneris — who has achieved so much having risen from humble beginnings — has not forgotten the people who make up this great American city.  


“The average layperson is worried about all the criminal activity,” he continued. Bagneris understands that the rising crime rates in New Orleans cannot be divorced from measures of public safety, citing a myriad of violent transgressions as proof of what people fear on a daily basis. “So, you grab their attention by saying ‘crime.’ To get the public safety message out, that’s where you have to begin.”


And how would Bagneris begin? In his eyes, it’s a two-fold approach. “First, the city must increase police manpower. There has to be an immediate reduction in criminal activity, and to do so, you have to enhance manpower. Crime is up because manpower is down.”


The other part of his plan is to take a preventive approach through education. Bagneris continued, “You have to deal with the root causes of crime. Go to any prison, and you’re likely to find two common elements: a prisoner comes from an impoverished background and often has little to no formal academic education.”


To change the roots of criminality, the candidate advocates for the development of programs for “improving job training skills — from the industrial arts, vo-tech programs, skilled trades, but begin at the high school level. Don’t wait to send kids off to community college to start.”  


To that end, Bagneris’ plan includes establishing a first-ever Office of Education in City Hall.  “The mayor’s office has no jurisdiction as it relates to education, and our intent would not be to usurp anyone’s authority,” he explained. "The goal would be to assist individuals and entities and advocate through the city’s legislative package. In the past, the mayor’s office generally has been a bully pulpit, but I’d like the Office of Education to be more interactive.” 


Another one of Bagneris’ goals is to target opportunities for apprenticeships and internships and give students the chance to study with master crafts and skilled trades-persons. 


His desire to include work preparation as a key part of the learning experience may stem from his own story when, as a young man, he swept floors to earn money to pay his tuition fees at St. Peter Claver Elementary School. That same do-it-yourself attitude is what gives credence to his sense of urgency when speaking about not only creating jobs, but diversifying employment opportunities in New Orleans.


In his campaign announcement speech, Bagneris extolled the city’s potential, stating, “This City has countless opportunities to stimulate economic growth and job creation.” At the same time, he did not shy away from an all-too-familiar truism spoken in some circles. “Our children are leaving in droves because there is no opportunity here. Tourism is primarily a low-wage industry. We should not allow ourselves to be a one-trick pony. This City has been blessed with too many resources to depend simply on tourism.” 


And, it’s our over-reliance on the “one-trick pony” that concerns Bagneris.   

“We are a resource-rich city,” he explained in our interview at his campaign headquarters on Canal Street. "We have nine colleges and universities, an abundance of natural gas, and a great Port. Pioneers in creative digital media are flocking to New Orleans, bringing an entrepreneurial spirit. If government can do its job right, encourage public investments that will fuel private sector development and focus on regional cooperation, we can be an engine for good jobs and a hub for new companies.”


One way to create new jobs is to more effectively exploit our status as a major port city.  “We are probably the only port city in the United States that does not create added value to its imports,” he opined. " New Orleans needs to develop light and intermediate manufacturing as a source of new businesses and jobs."Bagneris continued by highlighting the strange discrepancies between New Orleans’ import practices and businesses: the city is one of the largest importers of lumber and steel, but we are without a furniture manufactory or any enterprises to manufacture nuts and bolts. "The port gets cocoa beans from the continent of Africa. And, after the beans have made this long trip and enter our port, we place them on boxcars, trucks, or planes and send them elsewhere to be transformed into chocolate, cocoa butter, or mulch. Why can’t we be the transformers?” 


In the mayoral role, Bagneris wants to bridge what seems to be a “disconnect” between accomplishments of the past with the possibilities in the future. “It’s always been a mystery why we haven’t developed the business of music fully – I’m talking recording, publishing, distribution. That’s where the money is and that’s where the jobs are. New Orleans has musical talent bubbling out of the sidewalks. But, where are the musical business leaders?”


He also feels that the Crescent City has countless opportunities to stimulate economic growth and job creation — including those in educational and teaching innovations, a revitalized medical corridor, and the new entertainment corridor between Poydras and St. Claude. He’d also like to maximize our universities as research hubs, promote the seafood and culinary industries, invest in green industries, and focus on our citizens’ artistic talents. “The opportunities are there, but we have to dream.”


Ultimately, Bagneris is driven by a deep dedication to and passion for his hometown. “Keep the drive alive!” is a slogan he credits to his former mentor, the Honorable Ernest “Dutch” Morial, but the sentiments are not a trite expression of misplaced nostalgia. For Bagneris, they are genuinely powerful. Using the slogan is also an attempt to bring together those who witnessed New Orleans’ emergence in the late 70’s and early 80’s with the current generation who will inherit the city’s legacy both now and in the future.  “You have to keep moving with the progress we’re making. ‘Keep the drive alive’ gives the older generations a source of pride, and hopefully, they can teach the young ones what it’s all about.”


Bagneris’ plans are comprehensive, extending to all reaches of the city. In particular, he wants to bring new industries and opportunities to Algiers, the Lower Ninth Ward, and New Orleans East, where he envisions a revitalization of the Lincoln Beach area to bolster new economic growth. “I’ve promised the people in New Orleans East that in my first one hundred days, I want to find out why there has been no revitalization of Lincoln Beach.” Additionally, he wants to address quality of life issues with respect to improving transportation to all areas of the city, especially in areas where many of the city’s service workers reside. “I’m certain the ridership is there to justify more bus routes.”


Last but not least, Bagneris wants to tackle the mother of all infrastructure nightmares: our streets. “To say that our neighborhood streets are in horrendous condition would be an understatement,” said Bagneris. "We can’t keep kicking the can waiting for the next guy to fix the streets. We can’t keep using lack of funds as an excuse.” To that end, Bagneris plans on dedicating the estimated $25 million from the red light cameras to neighborhood street repair.


Hopefully, the new rising stars on the block will not make the mistake of taking Judge Michael Bagneris for granted, or seeing him as a relic of a by-gone era. Certainly their advisers, a number of whom are Bagneris’ historical political contemporaries, will not let their guard down. They know his pedigree well. Armed with that knowledge, his opponents should come prepared to match both wits and wisdom with a well-travelled, well-versed veteran of city politics.  


One thing’s for certain, he’s ready. Dare to dream and dream big: Bagneris encourages us all to do that if we love New Orleans as much as he loves this city.  


“Those who say, ‘Don’t believe in big dreams,’ don’t know me. We must begin to dream of a city free of crime; a city where every able-bodied person who wants a job can find one; a city where businesses are thriving not simply holding on; a city where driving down the street is a normal occurrence, not a life-risking adventure. Together, we can make this dream a reality.”


His dreams are not so far-fetched. Frankly, they are pretty commonplace in many successful American cities. Judge Michael Bagneris believes dreams can come true despite the obstacles seeming to rise and imperil our path. To those who do dare to take him lightly, he says, “If they think challenges scare this person, they should think again. I’m here because I refuse to give up on New Orleans.”  


Based on his record, his words, his deeds and DIY spirit, Michael Bagneris might just convince you, too.


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